City Reliquary Museum


of an Exhibition

by Kirsten McNally

Published on June 01, 2019

  • Description:

    I’ve passed the City Reliquary Museum a number of times thinking it was a New York City bodega. It is part of the fabric of the street in a way that is unassuming. The museum is located in a small storefront in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in a high-traffic area. I’ve stopped and paused to look at the large collection in the window, mostly Statue of Liberty figurines, many times before considering walking in. The museum, which is comprised of two small rooms (one single exhibition) contains cultural ephemera and relics from New York City.

    The experience of walking inside the City Reliquary is similar to walking into a junk shop or second hand store. The museum literally grew from a resident of the area’s collection, and this feeling is palpable in the space itself: it is dense, with a lot to look at and explore. After walking through a vintage turnstile to enter the first gallery, a visitor is immediately confronted by the museum’s permanent collection. The room (visible from the front) behind it houses the museum’s “community collection”: objects sourced by visitors.

    The permanent collection contains a small section on the geology of New York City, artifacts from New York-based World’s Fairs, and the original 2nd Avenue Deli Sign. There are a variety of ways to take in this part of the exhibition. There are invitations to touch, to crank an old nickelodeon, to pick up an old rotary phone and hear about the “rocks of New York City”. In equal measure, there are opportunities to look closely: objects closely packed in display cases, paint chips from the New York City subway, and text written on a typewriter explaining their significance. This combination of experiences made me feel like a kid in a candy store, with the desire to take in everything voraciously. The form truly follows the function here: one could potentially step into the space unexpectedly and be swept away by the many stories that are told through the objects.

    The second room featured work collected by the community and donated to the museum. It ranged from a display case full of a Brooklyn residents’ confetti collection to a donated (mystery) brick. A sign on the wall reads “Assigning accession numbers in an important part of acquiring objects. As a small museum, we are still struggling to develop a perpetual method for cataloguing a very organic early growth pattern”. This is an exhibition that shows its process.

    The exhibition at the City Reliquary Museum typifies what it feels like to be a New Yorker. There is an insatiable sense of curiosity, ambition, and an overwhelming amount of “stuff” in this space that tells a story. The museum hosts regular programming that enlivens the space even more: when I visited, the museum was preparing to dust off its backyard tiki bar and movie screen. The experience of being a visitor to the City Reliquary Museum reminded me that museums, like a city itself, are living, breathing entities.

Latest Comments (1)


by Kathleen Mclean - June 04, 2019

What a wonderful find! Than you for reviewing this quirky place, and I hope more people go see it. It reminds me that so many of these odd places embody the soul of many museum experiences—a sense of wonder, not knowing what to expect, and delight upon encountering things like "paint chips from the New York City subway. Sometimes we get so caught up in the “importance” and High-brow" nature of museums that we forget to leave room for simple curiosity and tantalizing mystery.

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